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Needles and syringes have been our go-to method to administer vaccines for a hundred and sixty years. Now, with the advent of a nanopatch, a future without needles seems entirely possible. Not only is the nanopatch more convenient, but it’s also cheaper. Read the article to find out more.

If you’re anything like me, you would have been terrified of injections while growing up. Not only do they ache during the pricking, but some vaccines are painful for hours after they’re administered, making it difficult both for the child and the parents.

Well, now, researchers at the University of Queensland have done pioneering work to develop nanopatch technology, which is expected to play a big role in the development of needle-free vaccines.

Professor Mark Kendall, who led the team that did this work, has now been awarded the nation’s highest science honour, the CSL Young Florey Medal, after Pencillin inventor Howard Florey.

Administering vaccines through skin
The nanopatch is a tiny piece of silicon with twenty thousand microscopic needles on one side, coated with dry vaccine. When it is applied on the skin, the needles deposit the dry vaccine into the skin cells after breaching the tough upper layer of the skin. In the cellular environment, the dry vaccine becomes wet, and is absorbed into the bloodstream within a minute.

Relegating needles to history
The nanopatch is painless and could potentially cast away the age-old practice of needles and syringes to history. In addition to vaccines, nanopatches are now being tried in the field of diagnostics too, where people can self-administer blood tests and get reports of their samples instantly from the patch.

Here are a few other advantages of the nanopatch that promises to make it the next big scientific breakthrough in immunisation:

  • The nanopatch has been tested for every class of vaccine including malaria, influenza and cervical cancer.
  • The first polio vaccine field trial is scheduled for next year, where Professor Kendall has partnered with the WHO.
  • The nanopatch does not need refrigeration like conventional vaccines.
  • In the event of the pandemic, the nanopatch can be mailed out to people to self-administer, so mass immunisation schemes will be logistically easier to handle.
  • The nanopatch also promises to be less expensive compared to current vaccines. While a vaccine like HPV costs $50 to deliver, a nanopatch is expected to cost as little as $0.50 per dose, which will make it easy to carry out immunisation practices in less developed countries.

Damien Peters

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